Lights out

Jack Delano, “New Bedford, Massachusetts. Foggy Night.” Fall 1940. Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives, Library of Congress.

From the bedrooms all the light has disappeared. The citizens of this night have dropped into the dark behind the image plane.  Now that they are there, they have gone permanent. They can never be seen again.

Outside their windows, the surface of the picture is a box of light-soaked fog, seemingly open. We can look at it, and we think that looking at implies looking into. Diffusing out of the picture’s permanent unchange into time, the light illuminates the sign on the wall and tempts us to think that come November we’ll be able to take it at its words, surrender our light source in exchange for the source within the picture, take a stroll down the picture’s cracked sidewalk, and cast a vote for or against John Francis Morrow, citizen of the night.

But at the end of the avenue of fog, perspective merges the street lamps into a backdrop. From there, illumination shines back at us, overmatching our every attempt to see more of the fog than its display on the surface of the photograph’s silver halide replica. Behind the silver halide is the fog we can’t see into, within the fog are the fog’s own sources of light , and what they illuminate is what the fog illuminates, under fog terms. Because it is not our light that shows us the name on the wall in the box of fog, it is one of the names of the dead.